Archive for category Herbs

Perilla (Shiso)

Family Lamiaceae:  (Perilla frutescens var crispa)


Tender Self-Seeding leafy herb

Also known as Shiso or beefsteak plant.  Perilla is a member of the Lamiaceae family, which includes many strong aromatic herbs including; mint, basil, rosemary, lavender, Melissa, marjoram and sage. This tender bushy herb is grown for its aromatic leaves, flower buds and seeds. Used extensively in East Asia as a vegetable and as a herb it makes a great addition to a kitchen or herb garden.

History The plant is native to South East and East Asia.

Site & Soil Warm, light well-drained soil. Prefers acid soils of PH 5.5 -6. Seems to grow on any soil and does not require rich soil. Best grown in full sun or partial shade in mild climates. Perilla will happily grow in pots and borders. In warm temperate climates perilla will freely self-seed and can be invasive.

Propagation  Seeds require light to germinate and should have no or little covering of soil when sowing, but keep soil moist during the germination. To increase prospects of germination soak seeds overnight before sowing. Sow in situ or in trays at 15-20°C 30-40 days before last frost and plant out when all risk of frost has passed.

Sow (March) April-June   Spacing 30cm apart  Harvest All summer


Giant Leaf Korean Shiso Seed

Care The growing points can be nipped out to keep the plants sturdy. Warm temperatures, long day length and adequate moisture are required for good vegetative growth, and short days for flower production.

Spread Stands around 3ft tall.

Harvest  The flavour is best when the leaves are picked about 5cm wide.

Storage Store fresh in a salad chiller for several days. Leaves can be pickled or dried for longer storage.

Botany and Seed Saving Plants are propagated by seed they flower and seed in late summer-autumn viability of seed is reduced after one year at room temperature but can be kept longer if kept under 5c. Some sources state that the seed can lie dormant for 1-2 years but that a period of 1-2 months in cold will re-activate the seeds, which might explain why it self-seeds so well, the seeds are happy to survive cold winters to germinate the following spring.

Use Leaves are often served whole as decoration and are to be eaten wrapped around raw fish or cooked foods on the plate. Fresh leaves can be used to wrap meats or stuffing mixes into parcels or rolls before cooking. The leaves are often shredded and served in salads with cucumber, cabbage or radish or as garnishes or flavouring for beef, eggs, potatoes, rice etc. The leaves can be used as a vegetable; braised or fried in oil with garlic or ginger in a wok or added to soups, they are also battered and served Tempura style then added to soups. Shiso leaves are a principal ingredient in shiso maki (rice and perilla wrapped in seaweed).  The seeds can be salted and pickled and are ground, often added to the famous seven spices of Japan, Shichimi. The red varieties are used as colouring and for flavouring pickles such as sour plums and ginger. Leaves can be pickled by steaming for 10 minutes then covering in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar. Leaves are also dried and sprinkled on rice. Miniature seedlings (sprouted seeds) can be used as a tasty garnish or micro green.

Recipes Pork Shiso Parcels

Other Properties has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to help preserve and sterilize other foods.

Varieties Botanist consider the red and green types to be different. Red Shiso akajiso in Japanese is used to dye umeboshi pickled plums. While the green shiso aojiso is the stronger flavoured of the two  Korean Shiso is distinct from Japanese perilla the leaf appearance is different larger, rounder, flatter, with a less serrated edge, and often a violet coloring on the reverse side and the flavour is more reminiscent of apples and mint

My Growing Notes Freely self-seeds and does better than Basil in a hot or shady garden. I have not yet grown Perilla in England but I am about to sow some seeds so I would love to hear from anyone who has grown it in the UK.


Brenner, D.M. 1993. Perilla: Botany, uses and genetic resources. p. 322-328. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

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Tarragon Stops Sneezing

Tarragon is not a herb that I use that much in the kitchen because not everyone likes it, but it really is a useful herb to grow even if you don’t cook with it. Rachel had been sneezing for several hours, after clearing the attic, when we went round to visit our friends, Geoff and Doug. She was still sneezing so they told her  to eat some Tarragon and all would be well. After some face pulling, she doesn’t like the taste of tarragon, the sneezing just stopped, absolutely miraculous!

If you are suffering from sneezing caused by an allergic reaction to dust or pollen (it works on hayfever too) chew on a little piece of the fresh tarragon leaves and the sneezing will just stop.

Pine pollen sets me off sneezing and Rachel is allergic to all kinds of pollen, dust, cats you name it, so I had better make sure I take better care of my tarragon plant now that I’ve found out how useful it actually is.


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Cutting Back Mint

By late summer mint is usually looking decidedly unappetising, long straggly flower stems and burnt out leaves. But mint, given a good haircut, will come back with flush of tasty fresh leaves.

It is a very simple job that does not need any finesse. Use a pair of secateurs or even shears and cut the long stems back to a  few buds above ground level or to a height you prefer.

Straggly mint in late summer

Mint stems cut back

Mint that has been cut back now has a new flush of growth



Herbs for the Kitchen – East Asian

I try to grow most of what I need for the kitchen and this group of herbs are a little bit special because they are all essential ingredients for South East Asian cooking and some of my favourite foods.  Luckily most of these are pretty easy to grow and can fit in well with our Mediterranean garden with only a little extra protection.


Capsicum: Annum, Chinense, Baccatum, or Pubescens

Not a herb of course but Chillis are indispensable in my kitchen, for all kinds of food but particularly East Asian, so I grow a wide variety of hot, medium and mild peppers. Chillis can be used  fresh or dried, whole, pureed or powdered and all lend a different taste and quality to a dish.  I sow Chillis in heat from November-March, set out undercover in March-April and outdoors in May. They can be harvested (depending on variety and protection) from April right through until the first frosts. Chillis store well whole or powdered once dried or they can be frozen fresh for use during the year. Use in pretty much everything.

Oriental Chives (Garlic Chives)

Allium tuberosum 

These delicious allium leaves are a close relative of ordinary chives but the taste is so much better that I no longer bother growing chives. The long flat leaves have pleasantly hot sweet garlic flavour and the flower buds are a delicacy, crisp and delicious.  Once you get a clump started these plants are perennial and are in flower July-August. Sow spring or autumn and divide in autumn. I love this stuff so much I’ve got a 40ft row of it. Use The leaves and flower buds are lovely in soups, salads, stir fries or as crudités.


Mentha Piperita

Mint is one of the most versatile herbs we use it in all kinds of dishes; salads, noodles, soups, and puddings and not just East Asian inspired food. I grow a variety called Menthe Douce or Mentha Anglaise in France but we would know it as Peppermint.  Mint can be propagated from seed or by division. Mint, on our land is best in spring and autumn, in the hot summer months it can get tough and nasty so I cut it back in late July and it re-generates providing a late crop of fresh leaves late summer through autumn. Use a really versatile herb that can be added to to sweet or savory foods, fresh or dried to enhance teas, cordials, ice-creams, puddings, chutneys, salads and riatas.

Thai Basil

Ocimum basillicum 

Thai basil, also known as Thai purple basil, Asian basil, Anise basil is a magnificent plant; nice and bushy with pointed green leaves and purple stems and flowers. The leaves are delicious providing a strong, hot aniseedish flavour. It is most commonly used in Thai cooking where it is stir fried or added to salads, soups and curries. It is also deep fried and used as a garnish. Thai basil is grown much in the same way as European basil. I start the seeds off undercover in cells, usually March, then plant out when the weather is warm enough, usually April-May.

Use mainly Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, fresh or deep fried as a garnish


Coriandrum sativum 

I grow coriander also known as cilantro for both seed and the leaf. Coriander is a delicate leafy herb that goes to seed easily so for leaf production it needs to be sown regularly through the year. I sow direct undercover October-February and outdoors March to September. I find it best to sow in half rows direct into a well watered drill with a light covering of sieved soil. To aid germination some gardeners recommend that coriander seeds should be lightly cracked. To do this rub the seeds between two flat stones or put them in a small plastic bag and crush with a smooth heavy object, before sowing. I find the seed does germinate well without the need for cracking. Green Coriander Seeds are one of my favourite spices so once I have finished harvesting leaves I leave the plants to grow on to produce seed and use some green in the kitchen then dry the rest for re-sowing and using in the kitchen.

Lemon Grass

Cymbopogon flexuosus

Tender perennial native to Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Burma,and Thailand, also known as East-Indian Lemon Grass, Cochin Grass or Malabar Grass. Lemon grass grows in grassy clumps and looks a little like pampas grass. I got started with a clump of Lemon Grass, which was given to me by our lovely Auzzie helpers, Graham & Renee in 2006, and really growing well in the polytunnel. I also grow a clump from seed which is also growing in the tunnel. Once the stalks are large enough they can by snapped off as needed. If the temperatures drops below 4c they will need protection. Last winter the temperature, in the unheated tunnel, was too cold and the clump got frost bite and rotted back. I cut out as much rotten material as I could and waited, fingers crossed. In spring the clump came back to life and is now romping away again but lesson learnt. This winter I will make a special winter jacket for it of sacking stuffed with straw. Use finely chopped or left whole to flavour steamed dishes, soups, stir-fries and it also makes a delicious tea.

Vietnamese Coriander

Polygonum odoratum

Also known as Vietnamese Mint, Cambodian Mint or Laksa Leaf. A tender perennial. Most commonly used in Vietnamese cooking in salads, soups and spring rolls it adds an aromatic heat reminiscent of mint, coriander but much stronger and hotter with a hint of lemon. In Malaysia and Singapore it is called Laska leaf and is essential to the soupy noodle dish it is named after. Propagation can only be done by division. I started with one small plant in spring 2007, which grew madly in the polytunnel. However because this herb cannot be grown from seed I’d bought a plant to start with from a herb specialist but – disaster- the plant carried with it mealy bug in the soil which thrived in the tunnel and devistated not only the Laksa but everything else growing in the tunnel in 2008. I’ve lost the herb in fact I had to burn the whole thing, roots soil and everything to get rid of the bugs and the tunnel is still not back into proper use. I will have to start over with this herb once I can find another source for the plant.

Kaffir Lime

Citrus Hystrix

Kaffir lime leaves and juice are an essential ingredient in Thai curries, Asian soups and some stir fry dishes. The leaves are very aromatic and are used fresh whole or shredded. The limes make a lovely pickle and the juice is a strong souring agent. I have a small tree growing in a pot, which my nieces bought me, and this does need a little bit of special care see growing citrus fruit in pots.

Originally posted on Mas du Diable 31/7/2008 it is here updated and republished.

Seeds and Starts
I am hoping to expand on what I grow and try galangal, ginger, nigella, curry leaves, sacred basil, which I think is Ocimum tenuiflorum (Sanctum) and Holy Basil is Ocimum Basilicum (Horapha). So if anyone has any seeds or starts for any of these I’d love to hear from you.